State Rep. Jason Probst, D-Hutchinson, thinks Kansas legislators are “passive” and “reactive” at legislating.
Lobbyists “are not shy at all about proposing legislation” that reflects the interests of their groups. Legislators listen to opposing groups and try to find a compromise, he said. “I would like to see more legislation coming from legislators,” he said.
Probst entered the House in mid-2017 and will start his first full two-year term Jan. 14. He is spearheading four bills for the new session.
A judge in Texas ruled last year that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional and the White House wants to scrap the health care law that provides insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Probst wants Kansas to install its own law as a buffer.
Probst said some other states tell insurers that to sell in their state, they cannot deny coverage or treatment for those with pre-existing conditions.
Colorado is among them, and Probst called the Revisor’s office and the State Insurance Commissioner in Colorado. “They said, ‘You’re who?’ I said I’m a legislator in the Kansas House,” he said. Colorado has not seen an exodus of insurers because of the law, he said he was told.
“I don’t want to be a bull in a china shop on this,” Probst said. He will reach out to incoming State Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt’s office before a bill is filed.
“This seems like a pretty simple one,” Probst said. “’If you want to sell insurance in Kansas, you can’t deny these people,’” he said. “The day you’re born you start collecting pre-existing conditions. There is not one of us who doesn’t have somebody in their lives with a pre-existing condition,” said Probst, who has a 21-year-old son with Type 1 diabetes.
“Oil production is the source of a lot of money and jobs in Kansas,” he said, and the state can’t ban fracking, he said. He does want to change the pattern of wastewater disposal.
The Kansas Geological Survey has evidence that wastewater injected into Class II wells migrated and caused earthquakes in Reno County, he said. To discourage high-volume wastewater disposal in those wells, Probst is eyeing a fee of a dime per barrel.
“There are other methods of dealing with this water,” he said, and the fee could press large operators to look for alternatives, such as recycling for irrigation purposes.
“I don’t want to ding family farms that have a well,” he said, and the bill would provide exemptions for operators that contribute small amounts of the over 1 billion barrels of wastewater disposed of in Class II wells in a recent year. Probst’s bill also is expected to spell out how the state will spend the revenue.
To spur employers in lower-income school districts to provide a “livable wage” of over $20 an hour for a full-time job, Probst will propose an income tax credit for the employer. It would start at $1,000 a year for each new job created paying over $20, and the tax credit would diminish to zero by the eighth year. Employers in those school districts who boost the hourly wage for an existing job to over $20, could get a $500 tax credit per job. That tax break also would shrink and end.
Forty-eight school districts in the state -- including Hutchinson, Fairfield, Dodge City, Garden City, Great Bend, Wichita, Kansas City, and Liberal -- have over 50 percent of their students eligible for free lunch. Probst proposes using establishing the tax credit within districts where over half the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
“There’s a part of me that has a little misgiving about a tax credit,” Probst said, but tying it to a livable wage in a poorer area can encourage people to work and potentially boost the school district’s wealth.
“I’m not necessarily sure that this is the final version of this, but I just want to get the idea out,” he said.
“Kansas has almost nothing that governs land contracts,” Probst said. In a land contract, a seller and buyer can enter into a house payment contract, and “there’s no oversight on that whatsoever,” he said.
People who don’t use traditional financing to buy a house usually have damaged credit and limited means. If they happen to lose their job and lose the house and all the equity they have in the property, they also wouldn’t have the legal resources to go to court, he said.
The bill would require a deed for the contract be filed with the county’s Registrar of Deeds to help ensure the rights of the purchasers. “This would require foreclosure to be handled a little bit more like a bank foreclosure,” he also said.
Postage for ballots
“I have some work to do to figure out how to implement this,” said Probst, who has temporarily put the brakes on introducing a bill for the state to cover the return postage for advance ballots.
Requiring a homebound voter to put a stamp on the return envelope is like saying, “’Now all you have to do is get out to the Post Office or Dillons,’” he said. But the volume of mail ballots -- about 247,000 in the 2018 primary and general elections, combined -- and the varying envelope size found in counties across the state add up to a “pricey” proposal, he said.
Some moderate Republicans running for a second term in 2018 were defeated, and that made an impression on Probst. “You might be in this position two years or 20 years and you have no way to know that,” he said. “I don’t feel that I was put in this position to let legislation come to me,” he said, or to sit on his ideas.
He will invite Democrats and Republicans to consider cosponsoring the bills, he said.